Russian M42 lenses commonly available - basic survey

Started Mar 23, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Tom Caldwell
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Russian M42 lenses commonly available - basic survey
Mar 23, 2013

Just a quick tour through Russian lenses that are available in M42 format - originally made for their Zenit slr.

Not talking anyone into trying them, not selling them. Just giving some idea of the more common ones that might be around.   This is just my personal opinion of what is out and about and reasonably easy to find. These lenses are based on 1950's designs mostly.

Helios-40 and  40-2 - 85mm f1.5.  Huge, heavy, with very long travel focus ring - on mine it is a bit tight, makes it uncomfortable to use - expensive, but has a cult following - apparently some enterprising firm is now re-making them as there is enough demand/price to hand craft them.  Tiny dof when wide.  Those that can master them do well.  In comparison the Jupiter-9 85mm f2.0 is a lightweight tiddler and a cracking good buy at it's usual price.

Helios-44 - 58mm f2.0 - huge number of lenses made - straight Zeiss Biotar clone, some say it is better than the original.  The Helios-44M-4/7 can only be differenced by those that know the lens.  Cheap but a very good lens - super sharp.  Pin at back needs a modification (easy) to allow aperture to work in manual.

Helios-77M - a more modern updated version of the H-44M 50mm f1.8 (from 1985) Not as common.

Industar-61LZ - not to be confused with the quite different I-61LD which is a LTM lens - 50mm f2.8 M42 close focus - nice lens in use - large smooth focus ring - close focus to 300mm.  I like it.   ("Russian" original design?)

Jupiter-6 180mm f2.8, large and heavy Zeiss Sonnar copy after the style (size) of the Helios-40, a lens that has never interested me.

Jupiter-9 85mm f2.0 - a very nice M42 version, they seem to have made 3 or 4 shapes - I like the older "knobbly" focus ring version. But I think they all perform much the same - later ones might even be coated - early ones certainly not.  Not much longer even with adapter to the J-9 LTM lens.  More overall bulk and weight but a good alternative to the LTM version if one could not be found (the latter are reasonably rare).  Must be a Zeiss copy.

Jupiter-37A 135mm f3.5, well regarded, "normal" size for it's designation - there is a coated version. "Sonnar?"

Mir-1B (or 1V) 37mm f2.8 - small M42 lens, works well, common, well regarded - pity the adapter is necessary as this otherwise would be a very neat lens indeed.  The design won a prize at the 1958 Brussels World fair - I think it a Russian-original design and a good one at that.

Mir-10A 28mm f2.8 - heavier lens with close focus capability to 200mm. The first one I bought was from one of the few real-rogue Ukrainian vendors.  Luckily I persevered and acquired a "new" one in excellent condition - open the package and smell the machine oil still hanging about - ahhhh!  In any case I think these might also be a Zeiss Flektogon copy and if in good condition they are a very nice lens indeed.

Mir-20M - 20mm f3.5 - Zeiss Flektogon clone, an excellent lens, big heavy, saucer size objective, close focus. Rarer and more expensive.  One of my favourites.  I have the Zeiss in f4.0 and I admit it to be good, I have not "afforded" the Zeiss f2.8 as of yet, but the overall design is great for this lens type if you can stand the size.  One of the few lenses which is best parked face down when on camera for stability (grin).  Heaps better made than any LTM wide lens from Russia, well maybe the Russar is ok, but the M-20 is cheaper and faster.

Peleng 8mm f3.5 fish eye, 17mm f2.8 - I think these are still in production - I have not tried them

Tair-11A - 135mm f2.8 big heavy lump with a huge number of aperture blades, made out of army surplus tank barrels I suspect.  I bought a new one still in its original wrapping.  It is a very nice lens but a bit hefty for me - must try it again - takes good images.  Well built despite or because of the weight.   Originally designed by bored tank factory assembly workers.

Volna-9 50mm f2.8 close focus this has identical specifications to the Industar-61LZ. But it is physically substantially larger.  Both are good lenses but the Volna-9 is much more rare.  Somehow I am quite fond of the Volna, don't know why, it is not over-heavy and the focus ring works very well after the buttery feel of the Takumars. But then I fit the physically smaller I-61LZ and find that I like it as well.  Simply a toss-up the Volva is slightly in front with me but the I-61LZ is more common and cheaper.

There a number of "modern" Zenitars that look and preform like "1980's" lenses that I have not become involved in.  This type of lens are ten a penny and the Japanese had this lens market well and truly sorted out by this date.

There are a huge number of other lenses but I think I have covered most of the common ones in this short list, I exclude the giant telephotos and the reflex (cadioptrict/cassegrain/mirror) type.  Be aware of various sub-types for multiple other uses - medical, enlarger, Zenit M39, Kiev mount, medium format, etc.  They all went into the lens numbering melting pot and prototypes that might never be made in commercial quantities were assigned number and some made it into the hands of the public.

Popular lenses were often made by type in several different factories and often acquired an individual "twist of lemon" (for flavour of course) this might account for the several shapes of the J-9 and M-1B and even the "mass produced" H-44M can vary a bit.  I managed to buy a H-44M-6 for a son for $18 plus freight in immaculate condition (lucky for the price - not that common a steal) - they made millions of copies of this lens which explains the cheap supply versus demand price more than the low-price for such a sharp well built lens might indicate.

Yes they all fit and work on the GXR-M with an M42 adapter.  Real reservations on such giants as the H-40-2 and the T-11A (and the J-6 which even I passed at the thought)  But the others can be used successfully without too much strain as long as minimum size bang for buck is not the main consideration.

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Tom Caldwell

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